Paul graham y combinator essays

Which is not surprising: work wasn't fun for most of them. Why did we have to memorize state capitals instead of playing dodgeball? For the same reason they had to watch over a bunch of kids instead of lying on a beach. You couldn't just do what you wanted. I'm not saying we should let little kids do whatever they want.

They may have to be made to work on certain things. But if we make kids work on dull stuff, it might be wise to tell them that tediousness is not the defining quality of work, and indeed that the reason they have to work on dull stuff now is so they can work on more interesting stuff later. I remember that precisely because it seemed so anomalous. It was like being told to use dry water.

Whatever I thought he meant, I didn't think he meant work could literally be fun—fun like playing. It took me years to grasp that. Jobs By high school, the prospect of an actual job was on the horizon. Adults would sometimes come to speak to us about their work, or we would go to see them at work. It was always understood that they enjoyed what they did. In retrospect I think one may have: the private jet pilot. But I don't think the bank manager really did.

Keynote: Paul Graham, YCombinator

The main reason they all acted as if they enjoyed their work was presumably the upper-middle class convention that you're supposed to. It would not merely be bad for your career to say that you despised your job, but a social faux-pas. Why is it conventional to pretend to like what you do? The first sentence of this essay explains that.

If you have to like something to do it well, then the most successful people will all like what they do. That's where the upper-middle class tradition comes from. Just as houses all over America are full of chairs that are, without the owners even knowing it, nth-degree imitations of chairs designed years ago for French kings, conventional attitudes about work are, without the owners even knowing it, nth-degree imitations of the attitudes of people who've done great things.

What a recipe for alienation. By the time they reach an age to think about what they'd like to do, most kids have been thoroughly misled about the idea of loving one's work. School has trained them to regard work as an unpleasant duty. Having a job is said to be even more onerous than schoolwork. And yet all the adults claim to like what they do.

You can't blame kids for thinking "I am not like these people; I am not suited to this world. The most dangerous liars can be the kids' own parents. If you take a boring job to give your family a high standard of living, as so many people do, you risk infecting your kids with the idea that work is boring. A parent who set an example of loving their work might help their kids more than an expensive house.

Then the important question became not how to make money, but what to work on. Ideally these coincided, but some spectacular boundary cases like Einstein in the patent office proved they weren't identical. The definition of work was now to make some original contribution to the world, and in the process not to starve. But after the habit of so many years my idea of work still included a large component of pain. Work still seemed to require discipline, because only hard problems yielded grand results, and hard problems couldn't literally be fun.

Is it worth your time? — Paul Graham’s Essays

Surely one had to force oneself to work on them. If you think something's supposed to hurt, you're less likely to notice if you're doing it wrong. That about sums up my experience of graduate school. Bounds How much are you supposed to like what you do? Unless you know that, you don't know when to stop searching. And if, like most people, you underestimate it, you'll tend to stop searching too early. You'll end up doing something chosen for you by your parents, or the desire to make money, or prestige—or sheer inertia.

Here's an upper bound: Do what you love doesn't mean, do what you would like to do most this second. Even Einstein probably had moments when he wanted to have a cup of coffee, but told himself he ought to finish what he was working on first.

It used to perplex me when I read about people who liked what they did so much that there was nothing they'd rather do. There didn't seem to be any sort of work I liked that much. If I had a choice of a spending the next hour working on something or b be teleported to Rome and spend the next hour wandering about, was there any sort of work I'd prefer?

Honestly, no. But the fact is, almost anyone would rather, at any given moment, float about in the Carribbean, or have sex, or eat some delicious food, than work on hard problems.

Paul Graham (programmer) - Wikipedia

The rule about doing what you love assumes a certain length of time. It doesn't mean, do what will make you happiest this second, but what will make you happiest over some longer period, like a week or a month. Unproductive pleasures pall eventually. After a while you get tired of lying on the beach.

If you want to stay happy, you have to do something. As a lower bound, you have to like your work more than any unproductive pleasure. You have to like what you do enough that the concept of "spare time" seems mistaken. Which is not to say you have to spend all your time working. You can only work so much before you get tired and start to screw up. Then you want to do something else—even something mindless. But you don't regard this time as the prize and the time you spend working as the pain you endure to earn it.


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I put the lower bound there for practical reasons. If your work is not your favorite thing to do, you'll have terrible problems with procrastination. You'll have to force yourself to work, and when you resort to that the results are distinctly inferior. To be happy I think you have to be doing something you not only enjoy, but admire.

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You have to be able to say, at the end, wow, that's pretty cool. This doesn't mean you have to make something. If you learn how to hang glide, or to speak a foreign language fluently, that will be enough to make you say, for a while at least, wow, that's pretty cool.

What there has to be is a test. So one thing that falls just short of the standard, I think, is reading books. Except for some books in math and the hard sciences, there's no test of how well you've read a book, and that's why merely reading books doesn't quite feel like work. You have to do something with what you've read to feel productive. I think the best test is one Gino Lee taught me: to try to do things that would make your friends say wow. But it probably wouldn't start to work properly till about age 22, because most people haven't had a big enough sample to pick friends from before then.

Sirens What you should not do, I think, is worry about the opinion of anyone beyond your friends. You shouldn't worry about prestige. Prestige is the opinion of the rest of the world.

When you can ask the opinions of people whose judgement you respect, what does it add to consider the opinions of people you don't even know? It's hard to follow, especially when you're young. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you'd like to like. That's what leads people to try to write novels, for example.

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They like reading novels. They notice that people who write them win Nobel prizes. What could be more wonderful, they think, than to be a novelist? But liking the idea of being a novelist is not enough; you have to like the actual work of novel-writing if you're going to be good at it; you have to like making up elaborate lies. Prestige is just fossilized inspiration.

If you do anything well enough, you'll make it prestigious.